Dominica’s Traditional Dances

Dominica Traditional Dances

Dominica is known for its extensively celebrated creole heritage. Its series of activities hosted during the independence season represent its commitment to culture as well as sustenance of the African traditions that were left behind by our ancestors. Dr. Lennox Honeychurch in his research noted that the Agricultural practices on the large nineteenth century estates in Dominica were owned by the British. Dominica could not have hoped to match its counterpart islands in their money making abilities of sugar plantation. Therefore, the owners hired lower-class British citizens to work the fields.

The constant rivalry between the British and original French settlers made monopolization of island affairs and practices problematic.  Each group of settlers brought with them their own customs and practices to the island resulting in the variations in folk dances practice today. Although slavery has been abolished, some of the practices still remained and the island still performs some of the dances as a reminder of our ancestors’ toil.

Bèlè is the most evident feature of African heritage in Dominica. It was introduced by the slaves to depict their strong African heritage.  The main instrument used is the Tambou “drum” bèlè and a supporting instrument, the Ting Ting “Triangle”. It involves a male and female (in Creole, Kavalyé and Danm) and a choir with a lead singer.

Jing Ping represents the pinnacle of musical creativity in Dominica. It includes a variety of dance forms such as quadrille, lancers, flirtation, polka/heel &toe, schottische, mazouk and waltz. Jing Ping music adapts traditional creole melodies and calypsos to unique style. The instruments used to play are as follows:

Traditional Dances Performed in Dominica

Bele Dance Lancers  Flirtation 
Polka /Heel and Toe Schottische  Mazouk 
Waltz Cotillion Contresdanse 

• Primary Rhythmic Instrument (Tanbal) – It is the most important since the Tanbal player keeps the meter consistent for the other players to key directly from it. The Tanbal is a shallow drum with tightly stretched goatskin, held down by two or three wooden rings.
• Bass Instrument (The Boom-Boom) – A hollowed wooden bwa kan or piece of bamboo. There is no mouthpiece but the playing end has a slant cut to enhance the sound.
• Percussion (Gwaj or Siyak) – Has two parts; a cylinder measuring 3.5 inches in diameter and 10.5 inches length with holes like a grate in it. The cylinder also has gwen toloman (Canna Edules) or Jombi beads (Arbas precatorius). The other part is three 6-inch long wires of metal. It is played by shaking the cylinder and scrapping the metal stick against it.
• Melodic Instrument (Accordion, Banjo, Mouth organ or Violin) – The accordion is mostly used. The accordionist keeps the tunes and may improvise from time to time. He/she key according to the rhythm of the Tanbal player.

One can deem Dominica as the only Caribbean island with such rich cultural heritage due to its prolonged mixture and practice of African, European and British culture.